Mayor: Leesburg needs more black firefighters


04/12/05
JACOB OGLES
Staff Writer
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LEESBURG — Mayor John Christian said he wants to see more black firefighters in Leesburg so the agency “looks like the community.”

Although the department has some high-ranking black members, few minorities have been hired in the past decade, according to Fire Chief Dennis Sargent.

But when the city commission approved the hiring of three new fire department interns, Christian stressed that there was an opportunity to change that.

“Firefighter is a professional job where people have long careers,” Christian said. “We need make that opportunity available.”

Sargent said the problem has been a lack of credentialed black applicants. The city’s policy has been to hire firefighters who already have been trained and certified. Certain minority groups have trouble with the certification process before they have the job.

An intern program could change that by bringing in people before they are certified and paying for classes.

The starting salary for a new firefighter is budgeted at just over $33,000. The city approved three firefighters at a cost of nearly $100,000 Monday night. City Manager Ron Stock said by hiring before training, the city will offer 10 percent less than the budgeted amount.

Sargent said his agency is recruiting in under-represented groups. “Our worst represented group is actually females,” Sargent said, but identified blacks as another group that needed better representation.

Still, applicants of all race and gender will be considered equally, Sargent said. The only requirements are a high school diploma, a clean criminal record and an absence of tobacco in the system.

Christian said he wants all city departments to look at the racial diversity of the workforce, but he said he would not want to implement any type of quotas.

“We just need to look at ourselves from time to time, and make everybody in our community comfortable at all times,” he said.